Friday, May 07, 2021

The Lag B'Omer Forty-Five

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600 Jews sat shiva this week, among them 
18 widows and 60 orphans for 45 people, among them 13 children (including two sets of brothers).

Ariel Ahdut, 21, student of the Yesodot HaTorah yeshiva in Tel Aviv, one of the most respected yeshivas in the Sephardic Jewish world.

On Wednesday, April 29, the day before his passing, his mother, Tehi, came to visit him at the yeshiva. She took several buses to meet her son, and it was the first time she had made the Lag B'Omer trip in the three and a half years that he was studying at the yeshiva, she said at the shiva. The mother and son went shopping for clothes and ate together and talked for six hours about his progress in his studies and the goals he set for himself for the coming summer months. This was their last conversation. When asked why she came, she told his Rosh Yeshiva that she simply felt an urgent need to meet with her son. The last sentence Ariel wrote on a white board of inspiratioal Torah messages was: "Do not go to a place where everyone is jammed together.”

He finished the entire book of Psalms in Meron on the night of the disaster and called to inform his parents about it shortly before his passing.
Ariel's friends see him as a young man of extraordinary depth and inwardness, who loved his yeshiva, his friends and his family, and was kind and gracious to all. According to Behadrei Haredim, “His wisdom enlightened his face, and his rejoicing radiated comfort, encouragement and love to all his acquaintances.”

Rabbi Yisrael Alnakvah, 24, from Beit Shemesh, father of two. 

The stories that came pouring in Ruti’s direction as she sat shiva for her husband rendered her speechless. But honestly, that was her Yisroel. Always caring for others, always thinking of others. As a husband, Yisroel was always putting Ruti first. He would listen to her intently, and dedicated his life to make his wife and kids happy. The stories gave her tremendous comfort and soothed the pain of her aching loss. But when a stranger named Binyamin came in and said this, she couldn’t hold back heaving sobs anymore:
“We were crammed there, and we couldn’t breathe. I was next to Yisroel. He was a powerful man and he could have thrown himself over the fence. But then he saw me. And with superhuman powers, he pulled me out of the pile of death and threw me over the fence.” Moments later, Yisroel was crushed to death. He lived for others, and he died for others.
“He was a good soul, a generous heart, and was always the first to help everyone with kindness and joy,” says Yisroel’s brother-in-law.  “He distanced himself from machlokes and saw the good in everyone.Yisroel loved nature very much, and especially caring for animals and flowers, with his gentle and good soul. We should merit to learn from his ways and see each one only the good in the other, l’ilui nishmaso.”

Avrohom Daniel Ambon, 21, from Argentina and a student of Heichal Yitzchak Yeshiva.
A wonderful student, focused only on learning. It is rare to find a student in Argentina who isn’t at all interested in soccer. But he truly didn’t care about it. His passion was within the walls of the yeshiva. Very responsible and good-natured, never had difficulty getting along with any other person. When Hashem decided to take Avraham Daniel, we lost a pure neshamah, someone who never tasted temptation, in a generation that faces so many challenges. On Lag B’omer, while Avraham Daniel was in Meron for the first time, his father, Rabbi Embon, was gathered with other rabbanim, in a special learning in memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. At around 9:00 at night Argentinian time, rumors of the disaster started circulating. There was another rabbi present, who also had a child in Meron. He tried calling his son, but the lines collapsed, and he started to get nervous. “Don’t worry”, said Rabbi Embon, “the kids will be fine.” The ending was tragic, but it also carries a message. The Embons are all about sharing the messages of emunah and Torah. That’s the way they raised their family, and that was the environment in which Avraham Daniel grew and turned into a pure soul. 

Rabbi Moshe Bergman, 24, from the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
My beloved student Reb Moshe Bergman ztz"l was chosen to be the korban of English Jewry. With his love of Torah and sterling middos, Moshe was from the elite of our kollelim — Machon Hora’ah L’Rabbanim and the Second Seder Kollel. Moshe, who was 22 and had been married for a year and a half, was the first new avreich to join the kollel during corona. With his broad smile and enthusiasm he infused life into a difficult situation. Moshe always had an unparalleled love for Torah, but when he came to the kollel to learn halachah, this love soared to unprecedented heights. This was Toras Chaim, because Moshe did not just learn Torah — he lived Torah.

Rabbi Yonoson Chevroni was a student at Givat Shmuel and the father of three.
He studied at the Beit Midrash in Givat Shmuel and was married with three daughters, ages six, four and two years old. He heroically and faithfully stood by the side of his wife, Tanya, who had fallen ill in recent years. He was a student of Rabbi Reuven Sasson who described him as a noble person. “I have not seen people mourning like this except among the righteous," said Rabbi Sasson. “Yehonatan, I have always known that you are righteous and pure, a man of truth,” wrote Chevroni’s sister. “Everyone is talking about the light you had in your eyes. People keep telling us how significant you were to them, and they are sure they are the only ones. Yonatan, I admire how cultivated your hobbies, bought a camera, painted and walked every path in Israel.

Yedidyia Hayut, 13, from Bnei Brak.
“Yedidyia was righteous and holy, and if he wanted me to say anything, it would be this: ‘We all have something in common, we are Jews. Let’s unite. This is the time and the place.'”

Eliyahu Cohen, 16, a Breslov Chassid from Betar Illit and a student of the Heichal Avraham Yeshiva.

Simcha Bunim Diskind, 23. 
A brilliant Torah scholar and prodigy in his yeshiva, a married father of two from Beit Shemesh. "He radiated joy and made everyone happy. Everyone felt close to him, no matter who they were," says his father, Yaakov Diskind. "Our son was a gift, and we thank G‑d for the years that we had the privilege of raising him. Just as we do not ask why G‑d gives us a gift, we do not ask why he takes it from us.” Simcha Bunem’s three older brothers enlisted in the army. When he went to study at the kollel, it was clear to all of us that he was supposed to be there. “That is his destiny. To grow and be a rabbi,” says his sister.


Chen Doron, 41, from Cholon. 


Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, 12, and his brother Yosef Dovid, 18, from Jerusalem. 
The brothers are the sons of Reb Meir Elhadad, a well-known travel agent. Despite the fact that the family lives in Jerusalem, the brothers were buried at Meron. The father eulogized his sons amid bitter tears. He told the crowd how at first they had left the area of the bonfire after one of his sons said that he can’t handle the crowding. “And then Yosef told me: ‘I want to go back.’ I said: ‘Okay.’ I wasn’t worried. And Mordechai ran after Yosef.”


Yehoshua Englander, 9, and Moshe Natan Englander, 14.
Two brothers from a family of Bobov Chassidim from Jerusalem  

Mordchai Yoel Fekete, 23.

Yedida Asher Fogel, 22, a student of the Hesder Yeshiva in Ramat Gan, originally from Kiryat Moshe in Jerusalem
We had a dream to see him under the chuppah, with his brothers and sisters. He told me, ‘I’m going to Meron.’
“I said, ‘Why do you need to go there?’
“He told me, ‘Father I want to pray all night and then I’ll go back to yeshiva.’
“I know now that he is learning above.”

Elazar Gefner, 52, a very wellknown and respected Chassid of Dzikov Vizhnitz, from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shragi Gestetner, father of six, from Montreal

There was something about Shragee Gestetner, not just a beautiful voice, but a tremendous depth and sincerity. He wasn’t just a composer, but a singer, with a special voice. It was important to him that his songs have a message, the words and the tune giving something to Klal Yisrael. He was addressing his people in every note. His album was very well received, but fame wasn’t his goal — just the opposite. With success, he became ever more humble; it wasn’t about him. Money didn’t drive him, and I always remember how he would always pay my partner and me, his producers at the time, a bit more than he owed us, just to make sure he was being erlich and not taking money that wasn’t meant for him. If he had an ambition, it was to go bring simchah to as many sick people as possible, to brighten up as many hospital rooms as we could get to. That drove him.
And then one day, everything changed. He was done. He was at the peak of the industry, but he was leaving. He would sing for family simchahs, he told me, but that was it. He had two reasons, both of which meant the world to him. He wanted to be a father and husband, to be there for his family, and a wedding singer is out each and every night. He didn’t want that life anymore. At the time, he had four children and he felt it was time. The second reason was that he wanted to start learning Torah seriously. He wanted to be a scholar. He started to wake up at four o’clock in the morning so he could learn a few hours a day and still work to support his family. At a siyum masechta, he reflected on how difficult it had been to break into learning Talmud seriously. It had worked out, and how, he said with great joy; he was completing his first tractate of the Talmud.
In recent years, he had a new dream. There is an empty lot near where we live in Monsey, and he wanted to build a heichal haTorah, as he called it — not a shul or yeshivah, but a place where people could come learn Torah, at any hour of the day or night. He loved the Torah and wanted to share that gift. He dedicated himself to Torah, to avodas Hashem, and to his family, as he’d hoped. He wouldn’t budge on that decision either. I know he was offered good money to accept a gig or event here and there, but he’d made a decision and he stuck with it. His six children were his main focus. Remember him not for the sweet voice or even his sweet nature. Remember the ben Torah, the oved Hashem, the erliche Yid who used every moment he was given to create eternity.

Rabbi Eliezar Mordechai Goldberg, 37, father of four, from Betar Illit 
HaRav Eliezer Goldberg was a pillar of the community. He supported his family with his work as a sofer (scribe), and was a beloved Rebbe in "Aderes Eliyahu” cheder (elementary school). He was kind to everyone he knew. He was always giving, always supporting others. Always there for everyone, especially his children.
Chesedfund for his family.

Rabbi Yosef Greenbaum, 22, from Haifa. 

Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, 26, was a Satmar Chassid from the US and the father of four. 

Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi Joseph preferred the quiet of the backstage for his acts of chesed, but knew when to step in when no one else was getting involved. A brilliant scholar, the young father of four managed to imbue his children — aged seven, five, three, and one — with a lifetime of faith that everything God did was for the best.
Reb Leizer Tzvi had recently completed learning the entire laws of Shabbos, and was scheduled to take an exam on it this past Sunday. Instead, his soul was in the Heavenly Yeshivah, having succumbed to the crowd crush during what his family thinks was his first time in Meron for Lag B’omer. Leizer Tzvi had a perpetual concern for helping others. From the time of his marriage to Fraidy — the daughter of Reb Yissachar Dov and Chavi Rosenberg — he made sure that his time in kollel would not interfere with his spousal responsibilities, helping out at home. He loved doting on his wife and children, doing what he could for them. His wife, in turn, is a powerhouse who labored strenuously so he would be free to pursue his Torah studies.
He established a gemach that gave out interest-free loans, called Zichron Moshe of Ohel Feige Beis Medrash.
“He would help out people who he didn’t even know,” said Reb Moshe Leizer, whose wife’s sister is Reb Leizer Tzvi's almanah. “He had a face that was always glowing, he had a smile on his face, always a good word for everyone.”
He had an urge to utilize every minute, as if he were aware that his journey in This World would be a short one. He began a chaburah that eventually grew to about 75 people to learn mussar (ethics) outside of kollel hours. He would learn with Reb Moshe Leizer during his off time, every night, on Shabbos afternoon, and on Motzaei Shabbos.
Reb Moshe Leizer recalled getting a call from his chavrusa last week: Reb Leizer Tzvi was at the airport gate and he had 15 minutes to learn. “We used to learn at nine o’clock every night. He had the time, so he didn’t want to waste it.
It was the last time they learned together. While leaving the Toldos Aharon area of Meron, Reb Leizer Tzvi was caught up in the crowd and passed away. Even during those final chaotic moments, however, he did not lose his composure. A man who was standing near him during those few minutes called the shivah house to tell the family of their father’s last words.
“I heard him say Shema Yisrael, again and again, until his neshamah left,” the overwhelmed man said. “His face was shining. He was totally recognizable.”

Nachman Kirshbaum, 15, from Beit Shemesh.

Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, 34, from Beitar Illit, was a Torah scholar at Maor Einayim.

Menachem Knoblowitz, A US citizen from New York, who had been engaged only two weeks ago to the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Rosemarin, also from New York.

He was the one thinking about society’s forgotten and actively seeing to help others. Menachem found a mirror image of himself when he got engaged this past Chol Hamoed to Hindy Rozmarin from Lakewood — a Gerrer family whose father grew up in Eretz Yisrael, a home steeped in chinuch (education) and chesed. He went back to Eretz Yisrael with a bounce in his step as he looked forward to his wedding, scheduled for after Succos. His tragic death devastated both families. “It looks like I was not worthy to have such a husband,” the bride confided mournfully to a friend.
He had enormous respect for his parents. When selecting an apartment, he had one condition — that nobody there have a smartphone. Early to bed, early to rise, Menachem grew tremendously over the years spent learning in Eretz Yisrael. Menachem had grand plans for this Lag B’omer. He rented an apartment in the village of Meron for Shabbos for himself and his friends and left Jerusalem early in the day to help them organize. “He was like a diamond, he was gold.”

Yossi Kohn, 21, from Cleveland, Ohio, was a student of Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, 13, formerly from Passaic, New Jersey, lived in Jerusalem.

He was an unfailingly friendly, upbeat, and enthusiastic young man. No family member could remember him ever being angry. He was once brought close to tears by the fear of hurting someone’s feelings because everyone in the class wanted to sit next to him. That is fully believable as I survey the stunned faces of his classmates, still not quite at ease in their bar mitzvah hats, as they approached the coffin to ask forgiveness.
As we exit the building, one of the father’s closest friends relates how just less than a year ago, the father turned to him at Azi’s bar mitzvah and expressed his pride and joy in his youngest child — the only one fully educated in Eretz Yisrael, after the family made aliyah from Passaic. “This one we really got right,” he said.
At the shivah house, I hear more stories about Azi a”h that bring out his unique chein. Yesterday, the mailman was crying outside the building. He told a passerby, “He always helped me distribute the mail, and stopped to speak to me.”
A building contractor who worked on the Koltais’ apartment related that his Arab workers won’t tolerate children around when they are working, but they let Azi follow them and observe what they were doing. One of the members of the shul in which the Koltais daven pays a very large amount each year to retain an empty seat next to him. But he was delighted to have Azi sit next to him. They had bonded, as chavrusas on a ski vacation, when Azi was eleven.
Azi seems to have had a premonition that his sojourn in this world would be a brief one. Last week, he rushed home from his nearby cheder to eat a 20-minute lunch with his father, even though in general he had no time for or interest in food. And he kept telling his mother in recent months, “I’m going away soon” — as an ostensible reference to going to yeshivah ketanah, though he never explicitly mentioned it in those terms.

Rabbi David Krause, 33, father of nine, resident of Beit Shemesh.

Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, 19, student at Knesset Yehezkel Yeshiva in Elad and lived in Safed
While traveling on the relatively short bus ride from Safed to Meron, 19-year-old yeshivah student Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz sent a strange and very uncharacteristic text message to his mother, Sarah Leibowitz: "Mom, I'm on the bus, I cannot explain this but I have a request to you: I do not feel good that I went to Meron, I do not feel good. Pray for me really hard, Mom, promise me. I do not understand why I’m traveling there." “I do not know what happened to my son, a man of wisdom and giving, who called me and told me this,” said his mother. “We have not yet recovered from the death of our grandfather and now a very severe blow has fallen on us. I do not know what to think.”


Yosef Yehuda Levi, 17, from Rekhasim.

Moshe Levy, 14, from Bnei Brak, was a Talmud Torah student. 

Yosef Mastorov, 26, was a student of Yeshiva Rinah Shel Torah, from Carmiel.

Rabbi Shimon Matlon, 37, a Chabad Talmud Torah teacher in Beitar.
“There’s a little boy here, save him! It’s more important.”  These were the chilling last words uttered by 37-year-old Shimon moments before he was crushed to death in the Meron disaster.

Yishai Me’ulam, 17, from Rechasim. He had come together with his friend from Rechasim, Yosef Yehuda Levi, listed above. 

Daniel (Donny) Morris, 19, from New Jersey. He was a student at Shaalvim in Israel.

That smile, says Rabbi Noam Koenigsberg, his rebbi in Yeshivat Sha’alvim, was a fixture, evidence of a nature that radiated happiness. “He was such fun to talk to. As one of Donny’s friends pointed out, he even managed to smile while eating yeshivah-supplied wafers at our weekly gathering. Most people can’t do that. There was someone who had an emotionally difficult Elul who used to initiate conversations with Donny just because he knew that he’d feel better after.”
Five years ago, Donny left the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, where he’d gone for elementary school. On Friday, when the news broke that he’d been niftar, a teacher at the school happened to show his picture to the non-Jewish janitor, and the man let out a gasp.
Surprised by the janitor’s emotion, the teacher asked him, “You remember him?”
“Him?” replied the man. “Of course, I remember him. He was the sweetest kid.”
What was it about Donny that made him so memorable? Why did the janitor remember him, five years later, among the hundreds of Jewish kids who passed through the corridors of the school?
“There is no doubt in my mind,” the rebbi muses, “that it was a daily hello or a friendly smile that etched his memory in the mind of the janitor.
“This just captures who Donny was,” concludes his rebbi. “With that chein and smile, by taking three seconds to say good morning, he made an impact that was remembered years later.”
During the year that Donny spent in Sha’alvim, he thrived in Torah-learning, both in terms of hours spent and his own achievements. At the emotional levayah, watched online by tens of thousands, the story was told of how during Elul, Donny had asked his friend to wake him up for Shacharis, in an unusual way.
“Wake me up by blowing the shofar,” said Donny.
“Why do you need a shofar?” wondered the friend.
“Because I want to be woken up with a feeling of Elul,” came the touching reply.

Chaim Rock was a yeshiva student from Beit Shemesh who was studying in the Mir Yeshiva in Modi'in Illit. 
“Chaim was unique,” said his study partner, Yoeli Brim. “He was special in how he thought, his noble spirit, in his brilliance. Everything about him was just different. During [Talmud] lectures, he would surprise us, and also the teachers.” In his free time, Rock enjoyed composing and arranging his own musical compositions. Friendly and social, he would gather musically talented students and lead them in a cappella sessions.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Rubin, 27, from Beit Shemesh, was the father of three.

In an interview on Kan Reshet Bet, Nechama described her husband, how she learned of the tragedy, and the immediate impact on her family. “I can clearly recall the first time we met,” she related. “He had such a radiant face; he was a person of such depth and sensitivity, and he was also so wise and intelligent – yet he was always such a happy person too, so full of vitality. We always prepared for Shabbat together,” she continued. “The cooking, washing the dishes, all the preparations… Last week, we agreed that he would travel to Meron and I would prepare for Shabbat.”
Describing the horrific moments when the disaster unfolded, Nechama said, “When I first heard that something terrible was happening, I felt incapable of following the news stories as they came out. I started phoning my husband, and although there was cell phone reception, he wasn’t picking up the phone. In my heart I already sensed something awful, and I kept phoning and phoning, begging him to pick up and let me know that he was okay. I felt like I was going out of my mind.”
Nechama only knew for sure that her husband was among the fatalities later that Friday morning. “My mother arrived at my house and told me, ‘G-d has given, and G-d has taken away.’ Then we both broke down.”

Nechama’s oldest son is just four years old, but able to recite Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer. “My son doesn’t really understand what’s going on,” Nechama related. “He asked me why Daddy is in a tallit. But my older daughter does understand, and she cries even as she tells me that we’ll help each other and that somehow we’ll manage.
“Yehuda was devoted to his family,” she added. “He was so warm, so loving, and all he ever wanted was for everyone to be happy, for the children to be happy – and he was always telling me, ‘Love life, and life will smile on you.’ I have no doubt that he was taken because he had attained perfection. His task in this world was complete. But for us, the loss is immense, because we need more people like him, and we don’t have them.”
Hundreds of people accompanied Yehuda Leib Rubin on his last earthly journey, and the crowd was rent with weeping as his four-year-old son recited Kaddish for his father.

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Seller, 24, was the father of one and a resident of the Neve Ya'akov neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Moshe Ben Shalom, 21, was a student at the Ponovitz Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. 

Elkana Shila, 29, of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Chanoch Solod, 52, was also a Gur Chassid from Ashdod.

He was known as a passionate fellow and a dedicated shadchan, matchmaker. Mr. Yechiel Lasri, Mayor of Ashdod said, “The city of Ashdod is hanging her head in mourning 

Dov Steinmetz, from Montreal, Canada, was a student of Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Yaakov Elchanan Strakovsky, 20, was a student of Be'er Yisrael Yeshiva in Bnei Brak
A gentle soul who only wished to serve his Maker and bring peace to those around him. He was a student at the Beer Yisrael yeshivah in his hometown of Elad and the child of Boaz and Rachel Strakovsky. Among the belongings of the student, his friends discovered the following handwritten prayer, which he compiled:
Master of the World, may it be Your will, gracious and merciful G‑d, that you give me the merit, today and every day, to guard myself and my family (and the entire world regarding me) from speaking or hearing slander or gossip. And that we take care not to speak falsehood, flattery, silliness, misrepresentation, shaming others, contention, pride, anger, or anything else forbidden.
Grant us that we speak only that which is necessary for our body and soul, and may all our actions, words, and thoughts, be for the sake of heaven.
And place in our hearts that we each only see the goodness of our fellows and not their shortcomings.
“He was the ‘rabbi’ of our family, refined and with a pure soul, drawn toward spirituality, Torah, and mitzvot,” cried his anguished father, Boaz Strakovsky, during the funeral. “How can I think that my child went to celebrate in honor of a tzaddik, and this is how he returns? It’s incomprehensible!”

Yosef Amram Tauber was a resident of Monsey, New York, who came to the Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem to study
Yossi Tauber had just arrived in Eretz Yisrael for the first time four weeks ago. A star student of Rav Ephraim Wachsman at Yeshiva Meor Yitzchok in Monsey — “our crown,” as the rosh yeshivah referred to him in his heartrending hesped — Yossi stood out from among his peers in Torah and caring for others.
“Yosef Amram was a student who had a future of greatness — greatness in Torah, greatness in influencing others, greatness in yirah,” Rav Wachsman cried. “He was filled with so much insight in Torah, so much dedication, so much gentleness and wisdom.”
Rabi Akiva lost 24,000 students, but that plague ended on Lag B’omer. “To lose such a talmid on Lag B’omer — how can we understand this?” Rav Wachsman exclaimed, sobbing. “Rabi Akiva’s talmidim didn’t treat each other properly — he was such a sweet bochur who treated everyone so nicely, constantly thinking about everyone, how to respect them and be their friend.”

Rabbi Ariel Tzadik, 56, Chabad Chassid from Jerusalem.
He leaves behind five children. He was one of the pillars of the Chabad community in the Beit Vagan neighborhood.

Rabbi Moshe Tzarfati, 65, student of the Gaon Rabbi Shalom Arush.
He is survived by four children and 25 grandchildren. Known as a “golden man” with an abundance of love for his fellow Jew, he was known to dance with everyone he knew and bring joy to his surroundings

Rabbi  Menachem Asher Zeckbach, 24, was a yeshiva student living in Modi’in Illit. He left behind his pregnant wife. 

Meiron 45

Emergency fund for victims' families.

Shabbat Shalom

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